CSIRO hydrocarbon sensor system underway onboard the research vessel.
CSIRO scientists monitoring the BP oil spill
CSIRO scientists have been deployed to help monitor the leading edge of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
8 September 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011
In May 2010, researchers from CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship were engaged by BP Exploration & Production Inc, on behalf of the Unified Area Command (UAC), to help map the oil's location and movement.
They deployed the hydrocarbon sensor array system, a CSIRO developed platform that detects different types of hydrocarbons (e.g. polyaromatic and volatile) in the marine environment, at varying concentrations and in real time.
The data obtained will help BP and the UAC to better understand the affected marine environment and to inform choices on further analyses and strategies to be employed.
The research team and deployment to the Gulf of Mexico
CSIRO researchers will help map the oil's location and movement.
Two teams of four scientists, led by Dr Andrew Ross, work in rotation, spending one month at a time at sea. They operate on a 24-hour roster so that the semi-autonomous system can be operated around the clock.
CSIRO deployed its first team and sensor equipment to the Gulf of Mexico in late May and they departed onboard a survey vessel to the survey site on 2 June 2010.
The research team has worked with BP and the vessel captains and crew to fit out M/V Ryan Chouest with the appropriate facilities for efficient science operations.
This has included the fitting of:
- a new communications system
- a winch
- an echo sounder system
- a laboratory
- several offices.
In the first 12 weeks, the research vessel has operated predominantly along the Florida, Alabama and Mississippi coastlines, as well as closer towards the spill site.
They have surveyed over 7500 nautical miles of surface waters in the Gulf to date, gathering data on the extent of the oil spill.
The hydrocarbon sensor array system
Developed by CSIRO's hydrocarbon sensors team, the hydrocarbon sensor array system enables rapid analysis of hydrocarbons in the water column. Its major application is for petroleum exploration.
However, it can also be applied to a range of other applications including:
The array system consists of a number of sensors that can detect different types of hydrocarbons at varying sensitivities.
The sensors are divided between two tanks:
- The primary tank contains four rapidly responding sensors that can detect the presence of hydrocarbons within seconds. This tank is continually supplied with marine water via a hose.
- The second tank contains four sensors, with a comparatively slower response time (within minutes), that determine the type and composition of the detected hydrocarbons. This secondary tank is filled once the primary tank sensors reach a threshold value.
To validate results water samples are taken for further conventional water analysis.
The hydrocarbon sensor data is obtained along with GPS coordinates and displayed in real time.
The data is then imported into a geographical information system that graphically displays the concentrations of hydrocarbons along the area surveyed.
The technology is still in the development phase and CSIRO scientists initially conducted two successful, small-scale field trials in relatively pristine Australian waters to test the long-term operational stability of the system.
Operating this system during the Gulf of Mexico spill provides the CSIRO team with the opportunity to trial their technology and systems in a real-life scenario.
Monitoring the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
For the Gulf deployment, measurements are being made of waters from between 1-2 metres below sea surface, with occasional casts to 130 metres to enable a vertical profile of hydrocarbons to be mapped.
In addition further analyses of samples by gas chromatography mass-spectroscopy are being performed onboard to ground truth sensor results.
The data is interpreted and reported on a daily basis to BP and the UAC.
Whilst the monitoring project provides some new challenges for the platform, the system is performing well and providing valuable data which is aiding the understanding of the oil movement and location.
Read more about our research in Locating hydrocarbon resource deposits using nanosensors.